The Kinks, commercially, went from being a rather successful rock band, to not so much, several times in its career arc. One of the latter was the 1971 album Muswell Hillbillies, “named after the Muswell Hill area of North London, where band leader Ray Davies and guitarist Dave Davies [his younger brother] grew up and the band formed in the early 1960s.” I have alluded to this album so often I figured I must have written about it before, but I had not.
It was their ninth album, but their first for RCA. It was also the first one I ever bought. Even though it came from a particularly English POV, there was something quite universal about the feelings of alienation. It’s also sonically quite diverse.
Also in the band at that time were original drummer Mick Avory, bassist John Dalton (who had replaced Peter Quaife off and on for years) and pianist John Gosling, who joined the band in 1970, a year before the album’s release. Also new, the brass section, “The Mike Cotton Sound, which included Mike Cotton on trumpet, John Beecham on trombone and tuba, and Alan Holmes on clarinet.”
Side one starts with 20th Century Man [LISTEN], “I’m a 20th century man, but I don’t want to be here.” That’s followed by Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues
But it’s five of the next six songs that really sold me. A more eclectic bunch of songs I’ve seldom heard: the out of time Holiday [LISTEN]; the swing of Skin and Bone [LISTEN] (“stay away from carbohydrates”); Alcohol [LISTEN] (a boozy “Oh, demon alcohol”); and Complicated Life [LISTEN]. For WAY too long, I used to go around saying, “Why is life so COM-plicated?”
Side two starts with Here Come the People in Grey, and that’s followed by the very proper-sounding Have a Cuppa Tea [LISTEN]; my sister sells teas currently, and that’s a bonus for my enjoyment. After Holloway Jail comes Oklahoma U.S.A., which I DID write about before. Then Uncle Son and the title song. The 1998 CD re-issue bonus tracks were Mountain Woman and Kentucky Moon, which did not particularly enhance the enjoyment for me.
There was a 2CD extended package that came out in 2013, which I won’t get because what I already have is just perfect.
More about the Kinks and some of the Kinks’ better-known songs around June 21, when Ray Davies turns 70.